Crash, Texas

On September 15, 1896, more than forty thousand people appeared in Crush, Texas, to witness a one-day-only publicity stunt.

William Crush, an agent for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway, proposed a publicity stunt that would make use of now obsolete trains. A few months earlier, a crash staged by the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad had been an enormous success, so Crush wanted to duplicate the result.

Two water wells were drilled at the site to prepare for the event. Telegraph offices were built, as was a special depot for the train. A tent for the Ringling Brothers was also set up. Lemonade stands, medicine shows, carnival games, cigar vendors, and other side shows were also scheduled to be in attendance at the event.[1]

For the event itself, a four-mile track was built alongside the existing railroad. The locomotives used were two thirty-five-short-ton decommissioned Baldwin engines. Before the exhibition, railroad officials staged a speed test so that they could predict the point of collision. Unsure that it would be safe, the line’s engineers assured William Crush that his idea was safe and that the boilers on the steam engines were designed to resist ruptures.[2]

Crush insisted that the general public had to stay a minimum of two hundred yards away from the track. However, he allowed the press to be within one hundred yards.[3]

On the day of the event, the crash had to be delayed for an hour because the crowd resisted being pushed back. At 5:00 p.m., the two trains solely met in the middle so that they could be photographed. They were then rolled back to their starting points. After being signaled to start, each train’s engineers and crew members opened the steam to a pre-arranged setting. They rode for exactly four turns of the drive wheels and then jumped off the train.[4] The Dallas morning news reported: “The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, but growing nearer and more distinct with each bleeding. Second, was like the gathering force of a cyclone. Near and near. They came, the whistles of each blowing repeatedly and the torpedoes which had been placed on the track exploding in almost a continuous round like the rattle of musketry… They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed to within a quarter of a mile of each other. Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place, the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder… A crash, a sound of timbers, rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters… There was just a swift instance of silence, and then as if controlled by a single impulse both boilers exploded simultaneously, and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel…”[5]

Panic ensued, and spectators ran. Two people were killed, and at least six were seriously injured. One photographer named Jarvis Dean lost an eye because of the explosion.[6] “All that remained of the two engines and 12 cars was a smoking mess of fractured metal and kindling wood, except one car on the rear of each train, which had been left untouched. The engines had both been completely telescoped, and contrary to experience in such cases, instead of rising in the air from the force of the blow, were just flattened out. There was nothing about the cars big enough to save except pieces of wood, which were eagerly seized upon and carried home as souvenirs.”[7]

By the next day, the story was all over the news. William Crush was immediately fired, and the makeshift town was dismantled in a day. However, much of the press the crash received was positive publicity, and Crush was rehired the next day.[8]


[1] Mary G. Ramos, “The Crash at Crush”, Texas Almanac, Texas State Historical Association, 1993.
[2] Lee Krystek, “The Great Texas Train Crash at Crush”, The Museum of Unnatural Mystery, 2005.
[3] Allen Lee Hamilton, “Crash at Crush”.
[4] Ibid.
[5] The Dallas Morning News, September 16, 1896.
[6] “Crash at Crush, Waco History”. Waco History.
[7] The Dallas Morning News, September 16, 1896.
[8] Vincent V. Masterson, The Katy Railroad and the Last Frontier (Kansas City, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1988), p. 272.

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